Dacryodes edulis is an evergreen tree attaining a height of 18-40 m in the forest but not exceeding 12 m in plantations. It has a relatively short trunk and a deep, dense crown. The bark is pale gray and rough with droplets of resin. The leaves are a compound with 5-8 pairs of leaflets. The upper surface of the leaves is glossy. The flowers are yellow and about 5 mm across. They are arranged in a large inflorescence. The fruit is an ellipsoidal drupe which varies in in length from 4 to 12 cm. The skin of the fruit is dark blue or violet, whereas the flesh is pale to light green. The tree flowers at the beginning of the rainy season and bears fruits during 2 to 5 months after flowering. There are two variants of Dacryodes edulis: D. e. var. edulis and D. e. var. parvicarpa. The fruit of D. e. var. edulis is larger and the tree has stout, ascending branches. D. e. var. parvicarpa has smaller fruit and slender, drooping branches.
The preferential habitat of D. edulis is a shady, humid tropical forest. However, it adapts well to variations in soil type, humidity, temperature and day length. The natural range extends from Angola in the South, Nigeria in the North, Sierra Leone in the West and Uganda in the East. It is also cultivated in Malaysia.
The oil of fruits of D. edulis is a rich source of amino acids and triglycerides [triacylglycerols]. The fatty acid compositions of fruit pulp oil of 2 cultivars of D. edulis (cultivars 1 and 2, grown in Cameroon) were determined. Fruits significantly differed in mass, length, thickness of pulp and mass of kernel, but contained similar amounts of oil (64.7 and 62% in cultivars 1 and 2, respectively, with ratios of oil:fruit of 1.4 and 1.54, respectively). The fatty acids (palmitic, oleic, stearic, linolenic and linoleic acids) and triglycerides compositions of oils of both cultivars were similar (although cultivar 1 was richer in palmitolino-olein (18.5 compared with 14.1%) and cultivar 2 was richer in dipalmito-olein (24.6 compared with 16.2%)).
A traditional food plant in Africa, this little-known fruit has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.
The main use of D. edulis is its fruit, which can be eaten either raw, cooked in salt water or roasted. Cooked flesh of the fruit has a texture similar to butter. The pulp contains 48% oil and a plantation can produce 7-8 tons of oil per hectare. It is also rich in vitamins. The kernel can be used as fodder for sheep or goats. The flowers are useful in apiculture. Shade tolerant traditional crops, such as Xanthosoma sagittifolium and taro can be co-cultivated with D. edulis.
The wood of D. edulis is elastic, greyish-white to pinkish. The wood has general use for tool handles, and occasionally for mortars, and is suitable for carpentry. The resin is sometimes burnt for lighting or used as a glue. The tree is used as an ornamental plant and is known to improve soil quality by providing large quantities of biomass. The tree is also a source of many traditional medicines.
The following names are synonymous with Dacryodes edulis: